Monday, January 18, 2010

Jim Belcher Interview: Deep Church

Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, has not only won a prestigious Bookshelf Book of the Year Award, but it has also won awards from other respected voices in the book review world. Our good friend Byron Borger says that "it is one of the most important books published in recent years." Pastor Tim Keller says, "Jim Belcher shows that we don't have to choose between orthodox evangelical doctrine on the one hand, and cultural engagement, creativity and commitment to social justice on the other. This is an important book." Indeed, it is. What follows is an interview with Jim (JB). Deep Church could not be more highly recommended to pastors, parents and students!

CPYU: Tell us a bit about your story. What led you to write Deep Church?

JB: What led me to write Deep Church? A moment of insanity! Honestly, I thought it would help the church. I knew it would be risky to try to stand in the middle of two camps arguing but I really thought I could bring them together. As someone who has had a foot in both the emerging and traditional wings of the evangelical church, with deep friendships on both sides, I felt compelled help both sides listen to each other.

I also was saddened by the rhetorical shouting match going on between the two sides. I wanted to call for a “time out” and demonstrate in the book what it looks like to take the other side seriously, even when you disagree. My goal is to get both the emerging and traditional churches to first agree on what they have in common before they jump to what they disagree over. At the same time, I thought that both camps were missing some important truths. So my goal was to put forth a third way that transcends the limitations in both perspectives.

CPYU: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding that the traditional church has with the emerging church and vice versa?

JB: I think the biggest misunderstanding by the traditional church is over postmodernism. Because they define it so differently, they assume that the emerging church is embracing relativism, which is not true. The biggest misunderstanding by the emerging church, I would contend, is their view that because the traditional church values belief that they don’t see the importance of belonging in coming to faith. I think it is more complicated than this and I point out a “third way” in the book.

CPYU: Explain what you mean by a “third way”?

JB: In Deep Church I take up the seven most common protests of the emerging church has against the traditional church. I dedicate one chapter for each protest. After laying out the problems the emerging church has with the traditional church on each of these topics, I give the traditional church a chance to “push back”, to challenge the thinking of the emerging church. Then after looking at the positions of both sides, I demonstrate how both camps are missing something vital in the discussion. I propose an alternative to thinking about the standoff, what I call a third way. So there really are seven different third ways that I describe in Deep Church.

CPYU: Many of our readers are parents and youth workers. How would they benefit from reading Deep Church?

JB: One of the great challenges facing kids today who grow up in the faith is their failure to remain in the body of Christ when they go off to college. Sadly, many Christian kids fall away in college and drop out of church. What could prevent this exodus? According to sociologist Christian Smith, when kids grow up in a church that is multi-generational and where their parents model for them a discipline of Scripture reading, they have a much higher chance of remaining in the faith and in church. I think Deep Church can be a great encouragement to parents and youth workers, painting a picture for what this kind of church can look like. I know one high school teacher in Ohio that has assigned Deep Church for her Christian students. Not only is she trying to disciple them but she is attempting to safeguard them from falling away from the church when they go off to college. She reported to me how receptive her students are to the book, especially the stories of individual transformation.

CPYU: I see you are speaking at the annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh! What do you think college students would gain from reading your book?

JB: Studies show that most young people lack purpose and meaning in life beyond getting a job, making lots of money and buying tons of toys. They lack something bigger than themselves to attach their lonely selves to. Thus they are often depressed. What they need is a vision for the church and the Kingdom to inspire them to greatness. It is my prayer that Deep Church will provide a big, bold, exciting vision for the Bride of Christ and how amazing it is to be part of it. If young people want to be where the action is, to be at the center of what God is doing in his world, bringing truth and justice to broken people and institutions, it is most likely happening in the church and God’s Kingdom. I try to show this in my book. As a former college professor, I strongly believe that this is a big enough vision for college students to build their life around and provide enough meaning and purpose to last a lifetime.

CPYU: The book has gotten many positive reviews. What has surprised you the most about how the book has been received?

JB: I think what has surprised me the most is the fact that people have NOT lost their love for God’s church. They may be cynical about it, jaded by its failings, and just discouraged about how anemic it has become but they have not given up on it or failed to see how vital it is to God’s plan in the world. They long to see it renewed. They have been waiting for an excuse to get excited about it again. I think in a small way Deep Church has been the gasoline poured on the dying embers. And for many, this has ignited their passions and excitement for Christ’s body. I get emails every day from tired pastors who have been re-energized, laypeople who were ready to give up but now are using the book in study groups at their church, and even people giving it to non-believers and saying, “this is what Christianity is all about; not what you have heard in the media.” To the extent that God is using this book to engender a greater love for His church, I could not be more thrilled and humbled. May He receive all the glory and praise.

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